OPINION: One senator must stop straining our military before it snaps

What many Americans don’t understand is how much one lawmaker’s obstinance is impacting day-to-day military operations


Senators have left Washington for their annual five-week summer recess without confirming nearly 300 military officers. All because a single senator has let his personal politics around abortion blind him to the very pressing needs of our Armed Service members, their families, and our national security.

A lot has been written about Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s obstinance. Military spouses have written to Tuberville, kindly explaining to the civilian senator how “the political fight unnecessarily adds to the stress of military life for families,” many of whom don’t even know where they will be living or where to register their kids for school.

Others have cited the growing national security issue he is unnecessarily creating. But for many Americans, what’s getting lost is exactly how this impacts day-to-day military operations. Unless you’ve served, it’s hard to appreciate how some seemingly wonky personnel decision can affect our military and wider security apparatus.

As a Marine major, I was stationed at the Pentagon from 2016 to 2019 representing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on conventional arms control negotiations in Europe. This was a critical time for arms negotiations in Europe: Russia was modernizing its military, building up its troops, and rehearsing for its eventual invasion of Ukraine. And for the entire time I was there, the United States did not have an ambassador at the negotiations because the White House waited nearly two years to nominate an ambassador to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Back home, nobody really cared that there wasn’t an ambassador to the OSCE. Why should they? But I saw what an absence of top-level leadership meant. The questions from our allies. The comments from Russia. We didn’t look serious and didn’t have a real policy lead.

It also meant that the second- and third-in-command had to shoulder more responsibility, which then meant some of their work was transferred to third- and fourth-in-command and so on down the line.

Such a redistribution puts unnecessary and detrimental strain on the organization as a whole, making it harder to accomplish the mission:

  • Less capacity to convince our allies to take hard positions on Russia and the energy reliance that funded an expansion of Putin’s war machine.
  • Less ability to apply leverage.
  • Fewer opportunities to advocate for American interests and exhibit American strength.
  • And that was missing just one person at the top. The military is now down nearly 300 top officers. If you continue putting enough strain on an organization, it’s only a matter of time before it snaps.

Sen. Tuberville is putting that exact kind of unnecessary strain on the United States military. There’s the immediate strain, but there’s also a more insidious damage that will continue hindering our military long after this stunt is over.

Every person that isn’t promoted to replace a retiring officer stretches the military thinner. It means more and more officers having to perform multiple critical jobs at once. Dozens, if not hundreds, of military officers are going to have to explain why the U.S. is sending significantly lower ranks than their counterparts to critical meetings and negotiations around the globe.

When China sends a high-ranking general to meet with a third country and we send a one-star acting commander, that undermines our country, our position, and our national security. Whether we want it to or not, it says that we don’t care. That we aren’t serious. And it makes other nations question our country’s resolve.

Weakening the position of our representatives overseas threatens not only our position in the world but our country’s safety. Period. And that’s exactly what Sen. Tuberville is doing.

Sen. Tuberville is counting on the fact that most Americans won’t understand the harm he’s causing. That’s why he gets away with cavalier statements like “there’s nobody more military than me.” This is why it’s incumbent on veterans like myself to speak out about the exact sort of damage this causes.

To speak about our personal experiences when Washington politics gets in the way of the mission. And, most importantly, to demand that Sen. Tuberville ends his dangerous game.

He has the opportunity – and the responsibility – to stop just saying “America First” and actually put the country first.

(Lucas Kunce (D) is Labor’s endorsed candidate to challenge U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R) in the 2024 election.)

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